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  • Writer's pictureArchdiocese of Bombay

Telesphore Placidus Cardinal Toppo Passes Away

The Archdiocese of Bombay condoles with the Archdiocese of Ranchi, Jharkand, on the passing away of Telesphore Placidus Cardinal Toppo.


Bangalore 4 October 2023 (CCBI): His Eminence Telesphore Placidus Cardinal Toppo (84) Archbishop Emeritus of Ranchi, Jharkhand passes away on Wednesday 4 October 2023 at 3.45pm at Constant Lievens hospital, Mandar, Ranchi. Due to aging-related illnesses, he was bedridden in the same hospital for last few months. Funeral details are awaited.

He was the Bishop of Dumka (1978-1984) and Archbishop of Ranchi (1985-2018). Two terms he was the President of the CCBI (2001-2004 and 2011-2013). He was also the President of the CBCI (2004-2008).

He was born on October 15, 1939, at Jhargaon, a small remote village in the Chainpur parish, in the district of Gumla (now a Diocese, but at that time a part of the Ranchi Archdiocese). His parents, Mr. Ambrose Toppo and Sophia Xalxo had ten children. Telesphore was the eighth child of his parents. His parents were farmers and had a hard time educating the children.

Young Telesphore did his lower primary school in the village itself. He was compelled to go to a faraway village, Barwaynagar, for upper primary education as none of the neighbouring villages had an upper primary school. As a small boy, Telesphore daily walked 3–4 kilometers each way for his schooling. On account of the interest and enthusiasm of the boy for studying, his father, a poor farmer, made every effort to educate him. After completing his upper primary school, Telesphore had to walk still further to Lievens Barve Boy’s secondary school, Chainpur, until his matriculation.

In those days the Belgian Jesuit fathers visited his village. When he first saw them, the following thought immediately entered his mind: Why shouldn’t he do likewise if the Belgian priests could leave their homes and families, sail across the seven seas, and traverse the then impassable forests and ravines for serving and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to the poor tribals. Until he became a priest, the question kept coming up often in his thoughts and served as his source of motivation.

Having been inspired by the lifestyle of the Belgian priests, he joined St. Albert’s Seminary. He graduated with honours from St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi. He completed his M.A. in history from the University of Ranchi. Later, he continued with philosophical studies at St. Albert’s College, Ranchi. For his theological studies, he was deputed to the Pontifical Urban University, Rome.

On May 8, 1969, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Franciskus in Basel, Switzerland. He returned to India as a young priest and was assigned to teach at St. Joseph’s High School, Torpa. He soon became the acting principal of the school. In 1976, he founded the Lievens’ Vocation Centre, Torpa, and became its pioneering director. Later, he was made the secretary to Archbishop Pius Kerketta, S.J., then the Archbishop of Ranchi.

On June 8, 1978, he was elected as the Bishop of Dumka and selected the motto, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He was ordained Bishop of Dumka on October 7, 1978, by the late Archbishop Pius Kerketta at St. Teresa Girl’s School, Dudhani. On November 8, 1984, he was nominated by His Holiness Pope John Paul II as the Coadjutor Archbishop of Ranchi. He was appointed as the Archbishop of Ranchi on August 7, 1985. The installation as Archbishop took place on August 25, 1985.

He was elected President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) for two terms (2001–2004 and 2011–2013). He was the President of the CBCI (2004-2008). Pope St. John Paul II honoured the thriving and blossoming Adivasi Church of Jharkhand by raising Archbishop Telesphore Toppo to the College of Cardinals on October 21, 2003. He was the first and only Asian tribal to have been accorded such a distinguished ecclesiastical office. He participated in the conclave of April 2005, which elected Pope Benedict XVI and in the conclave of March 2013, which elected Pope Francis.

President Delegate of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church (October 2005). He was a Member of the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Economic Affairs of the Holy See. Pope Francis has named Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, as his Special Envoy to the XI Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, (FABC) took place from 28 November – 4 December, 2016 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In 2002 he received the Jharkhand Ratan Award for distinguished social work done in Jharkhand.

Endowed with exceptional perception and a sharp observation, Cardinal Toppo was a chosen instrument of God for guiding the marginalized as well as righteous living and religious thinking. He is a person dedicated to the service of the poor and needy. His generosity, availability, and compassion have evidently made him an outstanding figure, respected by all people. His affectionately disarming personality won him friends and admirers in all circles. He is noted to be committed to and concerned for the growth of the church, solace for the poor and needy, and, in a very special way, the welfare and multidimensional progress of the Chotanagpur Tribals.

Cardinal Toppo is a person of manifold qualities, some inborn and others acquired through self-discipline and insightful observation. He is starkly down-to-earth and fiercely demanding for excellence. Orderliness and regularity are his hallmarks. His honesty, humility, simplicity, generosity, serenity, gentleness, courage, and self-confidence are the pearls of his great personality.

The spiritual life of Cardinal Toppo is extraordinarily simple and remarkable. He is a man of prayer and deep faith. His confidence in Christ and his union with the universal church is unshakable. His fondness for the Holy Eucharist, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and affectionate attachment to Mother Mary are the sources of his committed and inexhaustible personality. The source and secret of his energy solely lie in the holy sacraments and prayers. Regardless of pressing schedules and severe conditions of life, he never misses the Holy Eucharist, Rosary, or prayers of the Church.

He is a priest for 54 years, a bishop for 44 years and a cardinal for 19 years.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Alathara

Deputy Secretary General, CCBI


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